DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 30 – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of the World Economic Forum after a war of words with Israel’s President Shimon Peres over the Gaza conflict.
In some of the most dramatic moments seen at the normally restrained Davos meetings, Erdogan marched off in front of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other panel members complaining that his comments on the war were cut short.
"I do not think I will be coming back to Davos after this because you do not let me speak," the prime minister declared as he left, though he said late on Thursday that he could reconsider.
Erdogan criticised the audience of international officials and corporate chiefs for applauding Peres’s emotional defence of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.
Erdogan, who leads one of the few Muslim countries to have diplomatic relations with Israel and who has sought a peacemaker’s role in the Middle East conflict, said Israel had carried out "barbarian" actions in Gaza.
"I find it very sad that people applaud what you have said because many people have been killed," he shouted at Peres before being halted by the moderator, Washington Post journalist David Ignatius.
"We can’t start the debate again we just don’t have time," Ignatius pleaded as he remonstrated with the Turkish premier.
Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his efforts to reconcile with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation, had insisted that Israel had been forced into the offensive against Hamas by thousands of rockets and mortars fired into Israel.
"The tragedy of Gaza is not Israel, it is Hamas," said Peres. "They created a dictatorship. A very dangerous one."
Pointing a finger at Erdogan he said Turkey would have done the same if rockets had been fired at Istanbul.
Ban, Erdogan, Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa and Peres were sat alongside each other for the debate. All gave long impassioned statements on the conflict.
The UN secretary-general called on Israel to end its blockade of Gaza, for Hamas to end its violence and renewed Arab efforts to bring together divided Palestinian groups.
He earlier launched an international appeal for more than 600 million dollars to buy emergency supplies for Gaza.
Erdogan and Peres spoke by telephone after the debate and the 85-year-old Israeli president apologised for the events, Turkey’s Anatolia news agency reported.
Erdogan led efforts to mediate between Israel and Syria just before the Gaza war, which he has repeatedly criticised.
"I am a leader in this world who says that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity. I said this the very first day I became prime minister and before that as well," Erdogan said defending himself against criticism made by Jewish groups.
He complained that Peres was given 25 minutes to speak in the debate while he had only 12 minutes.
As politics overshadowed the Davos debate on the economic crisis, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and finance minister Alistair Darling pulled out of the Davos meetings, the government said.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is to host an international summit on the economic crisis in April, will still attend Davos.
Several top bankers have withdrawn and no senior policymakers from the new US administration of President Barack Obama attended.
Obama’s envoy, Valerie Jarrett, told the forum on Thursday that the new Democrat president believes the crisis was caused by "an era of profound irresponsibility by government and business, both in the United States and around the globe."
Jarrett said "financial regulatory reform" was one of the top priorities of the new administration and that Obama would take "aggressive and extraordinary action."
The forum was to hear from Bill Gates on Friday on how the crisis has hit his charitable foundation. The foundation endowment has lost about 20 percent of its worth in the recession.